How to survive a toddler.

Toddlerhood is a special time, isn't it? 

Like, special in the way being 39wks pregnant is "special". Or the way enduring 24hrs of back labour with a 9lb 14oz breech baby is "special" (hopefully avoiding THAT this time around). Or the way being bossed around all day by a 3foot tall tyrant is "special".

Deep down, there are beautiful, amazing aspects of each of these things, but when you're living it, you're in survival mode moment to moment. 

Toddlerhood. It's amazing, adorable and wonderful. But...come ON youguys, it is t-o-u-g-h. 

Amiright? You don't need to answer that, I know I'm right. 

Let me preface this by saying I think we have a pretty good kid. No, like a really good kid. I'm sure everyone feels that way about their own little person. But based on the minuscule amount of struggles and issues we have had thus far, we count our blessings daily and consider ourselves very lucky. He's a little superhero angel in our eyes. 

Toddlerhood, though! It consists of the highest highs, the cutest cutes, the smartest smarts, the coolest cools. Aaaand the lowest lows: daily (hourly/minutely) power struggles, annoyingly dramatic meltdowns, regular discipline debacles, impressively intelligent manipulation tactics, and utter parenting fails. 

What a gift and a blessing to have such a vibrant, brilliant, joyful, sensitive, kind, hilarious, healthy little guy who is workin' his toddlerhood to the fullest. Finding, testing and puuuushing those boundaries like it's his day job! (Oh wait...) If he puts this much gusto, dedication, full-on heart & soul into any other area of his life, he can achieve anything his humungous heart desires. 

I want to acknowledge here that I am positively blessed to GET to spend my days with him. I am so immensely grateful to have the flexibility in my career to be a stay-at-home-mompreneur. I know lots of moms don't have this opportunity. He goes to daycare 2 days/wk so I can hammer out some work on my biz, but for the most part it's Rowan & Mommy. All day, er'day. One-on-one. Mono-a-mono. This is time I cherish and feel SO fortunate to have with him. 

HOWEVER. He's 3 1/2 and boyyyyohboyohboyohboy. There are times when I just want to tap the frig out. Hit the pause button and breathe. Hide in the closet and meditate. If he were an adult behaving this way he'd be a raging a-hole! But he's a toddler, and he's acting exactly how toddlers act - on pure, intense, unadulterated desire and emotion. And as his mom, I have signed the eternal maternal emotional & spiritual contract agreeing to love him through it and teach him how NOT to be an a-hole. 

Tweet: We are teaching our little people 24hrs a day, even when we think they're not looking & listening.

We are teaching our little people 24hrs a day, even when we think they're not looking & listening.

The #1 way his dad & I teach him how not to be an a-hole is by not being a-holes ourselves! Simple, right? By being kind, understanding, respectful, loving, generous and accepting - to him, each other, friends, family & strangers - we are teaching him the same. Toddlerhood is an intense stage, and Rowan's behaviour is completely age appropriate and expected. Everytime I feel like this lesson didn't get across, or I didn't handle that outburst properly, I can relax into the fact that overall he has role models who are teaching him love and respect first & foremost, and that will carry him through these toddler trials. 

But aside from the day-in, day-out general conduct of our household, there are three specific techniques I have honed that have made our experience with toddlerhood, and specifically age 3 (not sure how "terrible" 2yr olds got a bad wrap when it's the 3yr olds who wreak all the havoc??!) so so SO much easier. If you have toddler(s), or little ones who are approaching this age & stage...take note. If even ONE of these tools works for you, godspeed. 

Three tools to survive age 3

Disclaimer: By no means do I consider myself a parenting expert, but I do aim to lead a calm, confident, courteous household. And these tools help me do that. But I SO do not have it all figured out, so if you have tips & tricks to survive the trenches of toddlerhood, PLEASE - for the love of everything holy - share your wisdom in the comments below! 

1) Timer.

We LOVE the timer. It has saved us SO many power struggles. How you ask? Let me paint you a little picture. 

Me: Okay Ro, ready to go pick up daddy? (/to the grocery store/take the dogs for a walk/whatever takes him away from his current enjoyable activity)

Ro: NOOOOooooOOOOOoooooOOOO! I! Want! To! PLAY! With! YOUUUUuuuuUUUU! (Really? Is the drama necessary?)

Me: (Calmly) We can play when we get home, bud. Come on, put on your shoes & your hat, let's go! 

Ro: (Frantically) NOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOOOoooooooOOOOOOO! 

Me: (Insert my broken-record spiel about using his big-boy voice...then) OK Rowan, we're setting the timer for 2 minutes. 

I set the timer for 2 minutes, sit down and play with him with all of my focus, presence, attention, and best superhero voices & sound effects. The timer goes off and he quietly puts down the toys, heads to the door, puts on his shoes and happily says "Let's go, Mom!" 

*MAGIC* 

Now, I know the cardinal rule is to never negotiate with toddlers. And I also know there are times when negotiation isn't appropriate and there's no time for a timer. But let's be honest - I'm a libra! I thrive on compromise and balance. Most of the time, if the choice is: spend 2 minutes fulfilling his needs (while having fun myself) OR spend those same 2 minutes battling with him (while wanting to poke my eyeballs out), I choose the former. 

Cooperative child: check.

I strive to lead a calm, confident, courteous household. 

This sends the message to him that I respect and value his desires. That's a powerful message, and I hope this understanding will serve our relationship for years to come. Everyone's needs are met and then we can happily go about our day together. Just like Carrie says on Sex and the City, “That’s the thing about needs. Sometimes when you get them met, you don’t need them anymore.”

2) Decisions. 

Toddlerhood is all about independence; separating from their parents and being their own autonomous lil person. It is absolutely breathtaking (and a little heartbreaking) to watch your little baby blossom into a self-sufficient little dude (or lady) who doesn't want or need your help. 

It's also frustrating as hell. (Excuse my language, but we're all adults here and I spend a lot of time with a toddler, so...) We can't do things as quickly or efficiently as either of us would like, and on top of MY frustration I need to deal with HIS frustration as he learns to navigate these new big-boy abilities and expectations. 

Because of their desire for independence, toddlers' frustration explodes when they have no control over the situation at hand. If I tell Ro he's wearing a specific shirt that day.....automatic meltdown. But if I ask him if he'd rather wear this shirt or that shirt, he happily chooses one of the two shirts I have selected, and our day moves along smoothly. He is involved in the process, he has a say in the matter, and he feels like he chose the shirt.

Independent child: check. 

I strive to lead a calm, confident, courteous household. 

Same goes for chores: "Do you want to push the cart or put the groceries in for me?" "Do you want to clean up your toys first or help me feed the dogs?" "Which errand should we start with: the bank or the gas station?" "Do you want to brush your teeth before you wash your face?" Compliance significantly increases (along with the pace and productivity of our day) when he feels like he has some decision or control in this/that/any outcome. 

3) Put him to bed.

But not as punishment! Creating negative associations around bedtime is counter productive when trying to create a good sleeper. We want sleep to be a calm, cool, predictable and pleasurable experience. It needs a schedule and a routine.

And it needs to be adequate. 

Sleep has always been a major priority in our house, but after our Easter road trip to Winnipeg, sleeping in the car, hotels, and strange new environments, Ro's sleep was completely derailed. As a result, until just last week we had been dealing with a toddler who was desperately overtired. Hooooly moses.

I'm talkin' night wakings 3-4x/nite as though I had a newborn again. Bedtimes that were a huge struggle, beginning & ending in tears and lasting 1hr or MORE!?! Sleeping-in when he was usually an early-riser, waking up grumpy and having irrational meltdowns literally within moments of waking. This led to a messy concoction of stress, tears & frustration that left everyone emotionally clobbered by noon. (In hindsight, that was probably the catalyst for this very blog post!)

Tweet: Sleep is absolutely crucial for emotional balance and wellbeing. And kids need even more than you & I do.

Sleep is absolutely crucial for emotional balance and wellbeing. And kids need even more than you & I do.

 

How do YOU feel when you're super sleep deprived? Short? Cranky? Irritable? Easily frustrated? Same with kids. (Have you seen my NDtv episode on Sleep? If not, check it out HERE.)

Rested children are happier, calmer, smarter, more agreeable and cooperative. They are an absolute pleasure to be around. Exhausted children are whiney, challenging and, well, exhausting. Adding sleep deprivation to toddlerhood is like adding gasoline to a flame. 

We corrected Rowan's sleep issues within 2 days with the help of our sleep consultant (and now friend, because we use her so much!), Krista over at Sleeperific. (You can find her HERE on Facebook.) She helped us get Rowan's sleep regulated, and he's once again his sweet, charming, well-rested, easy-bedtime little self. Now we're thankfully back to dealing with the tiny little flame of toddlerhood, without all that gasoline.  

Well-rested child: check. 

I strive to lead a calm, confident, courteous household. 

There you have it! Those are my 3 favourite tools to keep everyone happy around our house as we go through the mega triumphs and meltdown tribulations of toddlerhood. It is the best of times, and it is the worst of times, but that's life as a parent. And any parent knows, we wouldn't have it any other way.

So now...

Spill your secrets! 

What are your best toddler cooperation tips? We mamas need to stick together and support each other! I hope you found something in here that you can steal for yourself that brings more calm & cooperation to your days.